Vodafone taps Samsung for U.K. open RAN network

Vodafone Cornwall open RAN
Rural and beach locations in Cornwall are among the first in the U.K. to benefit from Vodafone's open RAN 4G technology. (Vodafone)

Samsung just won another big operator for its virtualized Radio Access Network (RAN) and open RAN technologies: Vodafone in the United Kingdom.

Vodafone, one of the early leaders in the open RAN movement, also named other key vendors for its U.K. rollout: Dell Technologies, NEC, Wind River, Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies. They all earn the distinction of being selected to build one of the largest open RAN systems in the world.

The operator has big aspirations, saying it believes the move will spark other large-scale open RAN launches and “spearhead the next wave of digital transformation across Europe.”

It’s timely, coming shortly after Vodafone said it will build a new open RAN lab in Newbury. U.K. That lab is in addition to hubs planned for Malaga, Spain, and Dresden, Germany.

RELATED: Vodafone hopes to avoid open RAN Catch-22, launches U.K. lab

Big deal for Samsung

Samsung already counts Verizon as one of its big vRAN customers in the U.S. Verizon was among the first carriers to deploy Samsung’s 5G vRAN last year.

The collaboration with Vodafone makes a first for Samsung, as it brings its cloud native virtualized RAN to a leading operator in Europe. Samsung points out that it has been continuously leading in vRAN innovation, most recently showing the capability to support the multi-gigabit speeds of Massive MIMO radios on commercial off the shelf (COTS) servers.

“We are proud that this collaboration with Vodafone — one of the premier carriers in the world — will be the first scaled deployment of our pioneering 5G technologies in Europe, including vRAN and O-RAN,” said Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun, president and head of Networks Business at Samsung Electronics, in a statement. “This is a major step forward, as more operators are transitioning into new RAN technologies to prioritize user experience and efficiency.”

Vodafone’s initial focus will be on the 2,500 sites in the U.K. that it committed to open RAN in October 2020. According to Vodafone, it’s one of the largest deployments in the world and will be built jointly with Dell, NEC, Samsung and Wind River.

The first priority is to extend 4G and 5G coverage to more rural areas across the southwest of England and most of Wales, moving into urban areas at a later phase, Vodafone said. The operator also is working to launch open RAN in other countries within both Europe and Africa.

“Open RAN provides huge advantages for customers. Our network will become highly programmable and automated meaning we can release new features simultaneously across multiple sites, add or direct capacity more quickly, resolve outages instantly and provide businesses with on-demand connectivity,” said Vodafone CTO Johan Wibergh in a statement.

“OpenRAN is also reinvigorating our industry. It will boost the digital economy by stimulating greater tech innovation from a wider pool of vendors, bringing much needed diversity to the supply chain,” Wibergh added.

RELATED: Vodafone initiates first open RAN trials in the U.K., challenging traditional vendors

The Evenstar radios are part of a joint effort between Facebook and Vodafone to create white-box radio units within the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), where they’re providing vendors with detailed specifications for developing more affordable radio units.

NEC provides radio units while Dell supplies servers to support the combined DU/CU function running Containers as a Service (CaaS) software from Wind River Studio. Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies are providing support to ensure interoperability.

Vodafone also said it’s working with several chipset suppliers, including an important R&D collaboration with Intel. In addition, it’s collaborating with Qualcomm through its OpenRAN Test and Integration Lab in Newbury, U.K.